Air pollution levels in Delhi shot up to more than ten times the permissible limits on the night of Diwali, and the morning after, making the air we breathe extremely toxic.
"In Delhi, pollution levels rose sharply from around 280 units at 7 pm on Diwali evening to 999+ within hours."
Here are two quick facts about all those 999 marks you see:
- The real pollution level is actually more than that. For example, in Delhi’s North Campus, the PM 2.5 levels hit 2000. It only says 999 because the display isn’t designed to show more than three digits.
- The permissible level of PM 2.5 pollutants is 60 units and for PM 10, it is 100 units.
I know what you must be thinking right now. This happens every Diwali, tell me something new.
Here’s what’s new. This year, the Supreme Court revoked a complete ban on bursting crackers, and allowed crackers to be burst under certain conditions.
But the restrictions put in place by the SC were violated rampantly across India - thanks to authorities who didn’t enforce the order, misreporting by the media, people who misunderstood the ruling, and those who didn’t care anyway.
But first of all, almost nobody read what the Supreme Court actually said.
ICYMI: SC Banned All Existing Crackers
In its ruling on 23 October, the SC effectively continued the ban on all existing crackers, and said that ONLY “green crackers” are allowed to be burst.
Now, here’s the catch. There was no such thing as green crackers in the market this Diwali.
According to the SC, a “green cracker” is one which reduces the pollutants and harmful gases emitted by 30-35% and doesn’t contain any chemicals which have been banned.
"But this rules out ALL crackers that have been manufactured till now. The Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (Peso) admitted that it has not certified ANY firecracker as “green” or less polluting."
So, the Supreme Court was effectively saying that you CANNOT burst ANY of the crackers currently available in the market.
Blatant Violations by State Authorities
Yet, district administrations in places like Ghaziabad and Noida issued official licences for the sale of firecrackers. As many as 114 licences were issued in just these two districts alone.
And what were these vendors selling? Ladis, rockets, chakris, fuljadi, all crackers with banned metals - the sellers openly admitted that green crackers aren’t available. All of this, in complete violation of the Supreme Court order.
If that wasn’t enough, some Delhi traders made a mockery of the order by selling crackers inside green vegetables to make them “green crackers.”
Media Misreports, Government Ads Mislead
Most of the media chose to ignore the aspect of the verdict that ruled out existing crackers, and instead only focused on how the SC had allowed crackers to be burst between 8 pm and 10 pm on Diwali.
As a result, a lot of people felt that the SC had given a free pass to bursting crackers for two hours on Diwali, even though that was NOT the case.
Even government public awareness ads couldn’t get it right. For example, the radio ads issued by the Delhi government focused on informing people that they could only burst crackers during the designated two hours, in community areas and that only “green crackers” should be burst. But the government didn’t bother telling people what these “green crackers” are, and that such crackers don’t exist currently.
So once again, people were left with the false impression that it is okay to burst certain crackers, without a clue as to how to identify these “green crackers”.
Should SC Have Stayed Absolute Ban Till “Green Crackers” Were Developed?
Now, hang on - I know that last year, when there was a complete ban on crackers, there were still a lot of crackers being burst. But there were also people whom we know, neighbours, friends - who refused to burst crackers because the law did not allow it.
Yet this year, even several of those law-abiding people ended up bursting crackers - because they thought “the Supreme Court has allowed it”.
Knowing the difficulties and lack of will in implementing restrictions on crackers in any case, should the Supreme Court have phrased its order a bit differently?
For example, the SC could have said that there will be an absolute ban on crackers till the time that fireworks manufacturers can produce crackers that match the court’s definition of green crackers.
Whose Blame Is It Anyway?
At the end of the day, the central and state governments failed us
- by not doing enough to raise proper awareness about the SC order,
- by issuing illegal licences,
- by not enforcing any of the restrictions with any real effort - crackers were burst from much before 8 pm till late into the night, far beyond 10 pm.
All those who burst crackers failed us - by causing suffering to patients with respiratory disorders, children, the elderly, our pets and animals living on the streets.
And lastly, by making the air we breathe so incredibly toxic, we the citizens have, most importantly, failed ourselves.
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